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The Last Ghost In Harmony






BY NELSON LLOYD


From his perch on the blacksmith's anvil he spoke between the puffs of
his post-prandial pipe. The fire in the forge was out and the day was
going slowly, through the open door of the shop and the narrow windows,
westward to the mountains. In the advancing shadow, on the pile of
broken wheels on the work-bench, on keg and barrel, they sat puffing
their post-prandial pipes and listening.

* * * * *

For a partner in business I want a truthful man, but for a companion
give me one with imagination. To my mind imagination is the spice of
life. There is nothing so uninteresting as a fact, for when you know it
that is the end of it. When life becomes nothing but facts it won't be
worth living; yet in a few years the race will have no imagination left.
It is being educated out. Look at the children. When I was young the
bogey man was as real to me as pa and nearly as much to be feared of,
but just yesterday I was lectured for merely mentioning him to my neffy.
So with ghosts. We was taught to believe in ghosts the same as we was in
Adam or Noar. Nowadays nobody believes in them. It is unscientific, and
if you are superstitious you are considered ignorant and laughed at.
Ghosts are the product of the imagination, but if I imagine I see one he
is as real to me as if he actually exists, isn't he? Therefore he does
exist. That's logic. You fellows have become scientific and admits only
what you see and feel, and don't depend on your imagination for
anything. Such being the case, I myself admit that the sperrits no
longer ha'nt the burying-ground or play around your houses. I admit it
because the same condition exact existed in Harmony when I was there,
and because of what was told me by Robert J. Dinkle about two years
after he died, and because of what occurred between me and him and the
Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail.

Harmony was a highly intellectual town. About the last man there with
any imagination or interesting ideas, excepting me, of course, was
Robert J. Dinkle. Yet he had an awful reputation, and when he died it
was generally stated privately that the last landmark of ignorance and
superstition had been providentially removed. You know he had always
been seeing things, but we set it down to his fondness for hard cider or
his natural prepensity for joshing. With him gone there was no one left
to report the doings of the sperrit-world. In fact, so widespread was
the light of reason, as the Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail called it, that the
burying-ground became a popular place for moonlight strolls. Even I
walked through it frequent on my way home from Miss Wheedle's, with
whom I was keeping company, and it never occurred to me to go any faster
there, or to look back over my shoulder, for I didn't believe in such
foolishness. But to the most intellectual there comes times of doubt
about things they know nothing of nor understand. Such a time come to
me, when the wind was more mournfuller than usual in the trees, and the
clouds scudded along overhead, casting peculiar shadders. My imagination
got the best of my intellect. I hurried. I looked back over my shoulder.
I shivered, kind of. Natural I see nothing in the burying-ground, yet at
the end of town I was still uneasy-like, though half laughing at myself.
It was so quiet; not a light burned anywhere, and the square seemed
lonelier than the cemetery, and the store was so deserted, so ghostly in
the moonlight, that I just couldn't keep from peering around at it.

Then, from the empty porch, from the empty bench--empty, I swear, for I
could see plain, so clear was the night--from absolute nothing come as
pleasant a voice as ever I hear.

"Hello!" it says.

My blood turned icy-like and the chills waved up and down all through
me. I couldn't move.

The voice came again, so natural, so familiar, that I warmed some, and
rubbed my eyes and stared.

There, sitting on the bench, in his favorite place, was the late Robert
J. Dinkle, gleaming in the moonlight, the front door showing right
through him.

"I must appear pretty distinct," he says in a proud-like way. "Can't you
see me very plain?"

See him plain! I should think so. Even the patches on his coat was
visible, and only for the building behind him, he never looked more
natural, and hearing him so pleasant, set me thinking. This, says I, is
the sperrit of the late Robert J. Dinkle. In life he never did me any
harm and in his present misty condition is likely to do less; if he is
looking for trouble I'm not afraid of a bit of fog. Such being the case,
I says, I shall address him as soon as I am able.

But Robert got tired waiting, and spoke again in an anxious tone, a
little louder, and ruther complaining, "Don't I show up good?" says he.

"I never see you looking better," I answered, for my voice had came
back, and the chills were quieter, and I was fairly ca'm and dared even
to move a little nearer.

A bright smile showed on his pale face. "It is a relief to be seen at
last," he cried, most cheerful. "For years I've been trying to do a
little ha'nting around here, and no one would notice me. I used to think
mebbe my material was too delicate and gauzy, but I've conceded that,
after all, the stuff is not to blame."

He heaved a sigh so natural that I forgot all about his being a ghost.
Indeed, taken all in all, I see that he had improved, was solemner, had
a sweeter expression and wasn't likely to give in to his old prepensity
for joshing.

"Set down and we will talk it over," he went on most winning. "Really, I
can't do any harm, but please be a little afraid and then I will show up
distincter. I must be getting dim now."

"You are," says I, for though I was on the porch edging nearer him most
bold, I could hardly see him.

Without any warning he gave an awful groan that brought the chills
waving back most violent. I jumped and stared, and as I stared he stood
out plainer and solider in the moonlight.

"That's better," he said with a jolly chuckle; "now you do believe in
me, don't you? Well, set there nervous-like, on the edge of the bench
and don't be too ca'm-like, or I'll disappear."

The ghost's orders were followed explicit. But with him setting there so
natural and pleasant it was hard to be frightened and more than once I
forgot. He, seeing me peering like my eyesight was bad, would give a
groan that made my blood curdle. Up he would flare again, gleaming in
the moonlight full and strong.

"Harmony's getting too scientific, too intellectual," he said, speaking
very melancholic. "What can't be explained by arithmetic or geography is
put down as impossible. Even the preachers encourage such idees and talk
about Adam and Eve being allegories. As a result, the graveyard has
become the slowest place in town. You simply can't ha'nt anything
around here. A man hears a groan in his room and he gets up and closes
the shutters tighter, or throws a shoe at a rat, or swears at the wind
in the chimney. A few sperrits were hanging around when I was first
dead, but they were complaining very bad about the hard times. There
used to be plenty of good society in the burying-ground, they said, but
one by one they had to quit. All the old Berrys had left. Mr. Whoople
retired when he was taken for a white mule. Mrs. Morris A. Klump, who
once oppyrated 'round the deserted house beyond the mill had gave up in
disgust just a week before my arrival. I tried to encourage the few
remaining, explained how the sperritualists were working down the valley
and would strike town any time, but they had lost all hope--kept fading
away till only me was left. If things don't turn for the better soon I
must go, too. It's awful discouraging. And lonely! Why folks ramble
around the graves like even I wasn't there. Just last night my boy Ossy
came strolling along with the lady he is keeping company with, and where
do you s'pose they set down to rest, and look at the moon and talk about
the silliest subjecks? Right on my headstone! I stood in front of them
and did the ghostliest things till I was clean tired out and
discouraged. They just would not pay the least attention."

The poor old ghost almost broke down and cried. Never in life had I
known him so much affected, and it went right to my heart to see him
wiping his eyes with his handkercher and snuffling.

"Mebbe you don't make enough noise when you ha'nt," says I most
sympathetic.

"I do all the regular acts," says he, a bit het up by my remark. "We
always were kind of limited. I float around and groan, and talk foolish,
and sometimes I pull off bedclothes or reveal the hiding-place of buried
treasure. But what good does it do in a town so intellectual as
Harmony?"

I have seen many folks who were down on their luck, but never one who so
appealed to me as the late Robert J. Dinkle. It was the way he spoke,
the way he looked, his general patheticness, his very helplessness, and
deservingness. In life I had known him well, and as he was now I liked
him better. So I did want to do something for him. We sat studying for a
long time, him smoking very violent, blowing clouds of fog outen his
pipe, me thinking up some way to help him. And idees allus comes to them
who sets and waits.

"The trouble is partly as you say, Robert," I allowed after a bit, "and
again partly because you can't make enough noise to awaken the
slumbering imagination of intellectual Harmony. With a little natural
help from me though, you might stir things up in this town."

You never saw a gladder smile or a more gratefuller look than that poor
sperrit gave me.

"Ah," he says, "with your help I could do wonders. Now who'll we begin
on?"

"The Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail," says I, "has about all the imagination left
in Harmony--of course excepting me."

Robert's face fell visible. "I have tried him repeated and often," he
says, kind of argumentative-like. "All the sign he made was to complain
that his wife talked in her sleep."

I wasn't going to argue--not me. I was all for action, and lost no time
in starting. Robert J., he followed me like a dog, up through town to
our house, where I went in, leaving him outside so as not to disturb

mother. There I got me a hammer and nails with the heavy lead sinker
offen my fishnet, and it wasn't long before the finest tick-tack you
ever saw was working against the Spiegelnails' parlor window, with me in
a lilac-bush operating the string that kept the weight a-swinging.
Before the house was an open spot where the moon shone full and clear,
where Robert J. walked up and down, about two feet off the ground,
waving his arms slow-like and making the melancholiest groans. Now I
have been to Uncle Tom's Cabin frequent, but in all my life I never
see such acting. Yet what was the consequences? Up went the window
above, and the Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail showed out plain in the moonlight.

"Who is there?" he called very stern. You had otter see Robert then. It
was like tonic to him. He rose up higher and began to beat his arms most
violent and to gurgle tremendous. But the preacher never budged.

"You boys otter be ashamed of yourselves," he says in a severe voice.

"Louder, louder," I calls to Robert J., in answering which he began the
most awful contortions.

"You can hear me perfectly plain," says the dominie, now kind of
sad-like. "It fills my old heart with sorrow to see that yous all have
gone so far astray."

Hearing that, so calm, so distinct, so defiant, made Robert J. stop
short and stare. To remind him I gave the weight an extra thump, and it
was so loud as to bring forth Mrs. Spiegelnail, her head showing plain
as she peered out over the preacher's shoulder. The poor discouraged
ghost took heart, striking his tragicest attitude, one which he told me
afterwards was his pride and had been got out of a book. But what was
the result?

"Does you hear anyone in the bushes, dear?" inquires Mr. Spiegelnail,
cocking his ears and listening.

"It must be Ossy Dinkle and them bad friends of his," says she, in her
sour tone.

Poor Robert! Hearing that, he about gave up hope.

"Don't I show up good?" he asks in an anxious voice.

"I can see you distinct," says I, very sharp. "You never looked better."

Down went the window--so sudden, so unexpected that I did not know what
to make of it. Robert J. thought he did, and over me he came floating,
most delighted.

"I must have worked," he said, laughing like he'd die, a-doubling up and
holding his sides to keep from splitting. "At last I have showed up
distinct; at last I am of some use in the world. You don't realize what
a pleasure it is to know that you are fulfilling your mission and living
up to your reputation."

Poor old ghost! He was for talking it all over then and there and
settled down on a soft bunch of lilacs, and fell to smoking fog and
chattering. It did me good to see him so happy and I was inclined to
puff up a bit at my own success in the ha'nting line. But it was not for
long. The rattle of keys warned us. The front door flew open and out
bounded the Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail, clearing the steps with a jump, and
flying over the lawn. All thought of the late Robert J. Dinkle left me
then, for I had only a few feet start of my pastor. You see I shouldn't
a-hurried so only I sung bass in the choir and I doubt if I could have
convinced him that I was working in the interests of Science and Truth.
Fleeing was instinct. Gates didn't matter. They were took on the wing,
and down the street I went with the preacher's hot breath on my neck.
But I beat him. He tired after the first spurt and was soon left behind,
so I could double back home to bed.

Robert, he was for giving up entirely.

"I simply won't work," says he to me, when I met him on the store porch
that next night. "A hundred years ago such a bit of ha'nting would have
caused the town to be abandoned; to-day it is attributed to natural
causes."

"Because," says I, "we left behind such evidences of material
manifestations as strings and weights on the parlor window."

"S'pose we work right in the house?" says he, brightening up. "You can
hide in the closet and groan while I act."

Now did you ever hear anything innocenter than that? Yet he meant it so
well I did not even laugh.

"I'm too fond of my pastor," I says, "to let him catch me in his closet.
A far better spot for our work is the short cut he takes home from
church after Wednesday evening meeting. We won't be so loud, but more
dignified, melancholier, and tragic. You overacted last night, Robert,"
I says. "Next time pace up and down like you were deep in thought and
sigh gentle. Then if he should see you it would be nice to take his arm
and walk home with him."

I think I had the right idea of ha'nting, and had I been able to keep up
Robert J. Dinkle's sperrits and to train him regular I could have
aroused the slumbering imagination of Harmony, and brought life to the
burying-ground. But he was too easy discouraged. He lacked perseverance.
For if ever Mr. Spiegelnail was on the point of seeing things it was
that night as he stepped out of the woods. He had walked slow and
meditating till he come opposite where I was. Now I didn't howl or
groan or say anything particular. What I did was to make a noise that
wasn't animal, neither was it human, nor was it regulation ghostly. As I
had stated to the late Robert J. Dinkle, what was needed for ha'nting
was something new and original. And it certainly ketched Mr.
Spiegelnail's attention. I see him stop. I see his lantern shake. It
appeared like he was going to dive into the bushes for me, but he
changed his mind. On he went, quicker, kind as if he wasn't afraid, yet
was, on to the open, where the moon brought out Robert beautiful as he
paced slowly up and down, his head bowed like he was studying. Still the
preacher never saw him, stepped right through him, in fact. I give the
dreadful sound again. That stopped him. He turned, raised the lantern
before him, put his hand to his ear, and seemed to be looking intense
and listening. Hardly ten feet away stood Robert, all a-trembling with
excitement, but the light that showed through him was as steady as a
rock, as the dominie watched and listened, so quiet and ca'm. He lowered
the lantern, rubbed his hands across his eyes, stepped forward and
looked again. The ghost was perfect. As I have stated, he was excited
and his sigh shook a little, but he was full of dignity and sadity. He
shouldn't have lost heart so soon. I was sure then that he almost showed
up plain to the preacher and he would have grown on Mr. Spiegelnail had
he kept on ha'nting him instead of giving in because that one night the
pastor walked on to the house fairly cool. He did walk quicker, I know,
and he did peer over his shoulder twicet and I did hear the kitchen door
bang in a relieved way. But when we consider the stuff that ghosts are
made of we hadn't otter expect them to be heroes. They are too foggy and
gauzy to have much perseverance--judging at least from Robert J.

"I simply can't work any more," says he, when I came up to him, as he
sat there in the path, his elbows on his knees, his head on his hands,
his eyes studying the ground most mournful.

"But Robert----" I began, thinking to cheer him up.

He didn't hear; he wouldn't listen--just faded away.

Had he only held out there is no telling what he might have done in his
line. Often, since then, have I thought of him and figgered on his
tremendous possibilities. That he had possibilities I am sure. Had I
only realized it that last night we went out ha'nting, he never would
have got away from me. But the realization came too late. It came in
church the very next Sunday, with the usual announcements after the long
prayer, as Mr. Spiegelnail was leaning over the pulpit eying the
congregation through big smoked glasses.

Says he in a voice that was full of sadness: "I regret to announce that
for the first time in twenty years union services will be held in this
town next Sabbath." Setting in the choir, reading my music marks, I
heard the preacher's words and started, for I saw at once that something
unusual was happening, or had happened, or was about to happen.
"Unfortunately," said Mr. Spiegelnail, continuing, "I shall have to turn
my pulpit over to Brother Spiker of the Baptist Church, for my failing
eyesight renders it necessary that I go at once to Philadelphia, to
consult an oculist. Some of my dear brethren may think this an unusual
step, but I should not desert them without cause. They may think,
perhaps, that I am making much ado about nothing and could be treated
just as well in Harrisburg. To such let me explain that I am suffering
from astigmatism. It is not so much that I cannot see, but that I sees
things which I know are not there--a defect in sight which I feel needs
the most expert attention. Sunday-school at half-past nine; divine
service at eleven. I take for my text 'And the old men shall see
visions.'"

How I did wish the late Robert J. Dinkle could have been in church that
morning. It would have so gladdened his heart to hear that he had partly
worked, for if he worked partly, then surely, in time, he would have
worked complete. For me, I was just wild with excitement, and was so
busy thinking of him and how glad he would be, that I didn't hear the
sermon at all, and in planning new ways of ha'nting I forgot to sing in
the last anthem. You see, I figgered lively times ahead for Harmony--a
general return to the good old times when folks had imagination and had
something more in their heads than facts. I had only to get Robert
again, and with him working it would not be long till all the old Berrys
and Mrs. Klump showed up distinct and plain. But I wasn't well posted in
the weak characters of shades, for I thought, of course, I could find my
sperrit friend easy when night came. Yet I didn't. I set on the store
porch shivering till the moon was high up over the ridge. He just
wouldn't come. I called for him soft-like and got no answer. Down to the
burying-ground I went and set on his headstone. It was the quietest
place you ever see. The clouds was scudding overhead; the wind was
sighing among the leaves; and through the trees the moon was gleaming so
clear and distinct you could almost read the monnyments. It was just a
night when things should have been lively there--a perfect night for
ha'nting. I called for Robert. I listened. He never answered. I heard
only a bull-frog a-bellering in the pond, a whippoor-will whistling in
the grove, and a dog howling at the moon.





Next: The Ghost Of Miser Brimpson

Previous: The Transplanted Ghost A Christmas Story



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